Fresno State’s softball team is focused and ready to get down to business in Los Angeles, where the Bulldogs look to take another step in the resumption of their annual trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs didn’t have much luck last postseason, eliminated after an 0-2 showing at the regional in Eugene, Ore., that marked their return to the tournament after a record run of 30 straight bids from 1982-2011.
This year, the veteran-led team is using the lessons from 2015 to approach the postseason with a different demeanor, coach Trisha Ford told reporters after Wednesday’s practice at Margie Wright Diamond.
“I’m in a good place,” Ford said. “Last year, I thought we were pretty loose going into regionals, but I feel like it was a nervous loose. This year, it’s much more businesslike.”
Never miss a local story.
Junior outfielder and Mountain West Player of the Year Kierra Willis agreed.
“We’ve been there before. We know what it feels like,” Willis said. “As a group of returners, I think we’re more comfortable now than we were last year.”
The team’s yearlong routine of focusing on “small” daily goals has produced the desired results.
That included a game-by-game approach in a 10-0 start to the nonconference season and a nearly perfect run to the Mountain West Conference championship that locked up the 32nd NCAA Tournament bid in program history.
We’re in a good place. We’ve been here. At Eugene, we didn’t execute like we had hoped. This year, we’re going to take it a step further and make it out of this regional.
Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford
Fresno State’s 10-0 start included upsets of then-No. 8 Tennessee (7-3) and No. 23 Utah (2-0). After losing their final preconference tuneup, 5-0 at Cal State Fullerton, the Bulldogs went on to win a nation-leading 23 straight – including 22-0 in the Mountain West, before losing the season finale to UNLV 10-7.
Now, the Bulldogs (41-10-1) are hoping they can string together another series of victories beginning Friday when they face Cal State Fullerton (43-14) at 3 p.m. at Easton Stadium.
“Basically, it’s like our third chapter right now,” Willis added. “Our focus is regionals and to forget what already happened. We have one focus now and that’s just to go further.”
UCLA and Cal State Bakersfield square off in the regional’s other game at 6 p.m..
13 Fresno State opponents on its 2016 schedule in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 64. The Bulldogs went 6-6-1 against those teams.
“You have to win that first game and then you’ll play forward,” Ford said, not wanting a repeat of 2015.
The Titans won the Big West Conference title for the first time in 10 years, securing the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.
Fresno State leads the all-time series 41-33 but is 2-2 in postseason meetings.
The Titans are led by standout freshman pitcher Sydney Golden (17-5, 1.79 ERA) and senior lefty Desiree Ybarra (15-6, 1.80). The team ERA of 2.17 ranks 18th in the nation.
Fresno State will hope the bats of Willis (.355/.696 slugging, 52 runs, 10 doubles, 10 HRs, 43 RBIs), Alyssa Villalpando (.333/.571, nine doubles, nine HRs, 56 RBIs) and Lindsey Willmon (.373/.696, 13 doubles, 11 homers, 47 RBIs) answer the call.
“We’re a good hitting team. That’s what we expect out of ourselves,” Willis said.
The Bulldogs’ Jill Compton (24-5, 2.98) was named Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, though Ford did not commit to starting her in the regional opener.
▪ Compton, two days after earning the conference honor, was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Pacific Region first team for the second year in a row and third time overall. Willmon, Villalpando and Willis also were named to the first team while catcher Paige Gumz made the second team. Boise State shortstop Rebekah Cervantes (Redwood) made the third team, as did Nevada shortstop Megan Sweet (Hanford West, Frontier highs) on the All-West Region list.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Los Angeles Regional
Friday-Sunday at UCLA’s Easton Stadium
- Game 1: Cal State Fullerton (43-14) vs. Fresno State (41-10-1), 3 p.m.
- Game 2: Cal State Bakersfield (16-32) vs. UCLA (35-13-1), 6 p.m.
- Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
- Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 3 p.m.
- Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
- Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon
- Game 7: Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary), 3 p.m.
Regional field at a glance
- Cal State Fullerton: Big West champion for first time in 10 years, back in postseason for 26th time. Titans beat Bulldogs 5-0 earlier this season, though Fresno State holds 39-33 lead in all-time series.
- Cal State Bakersfield: Beat top-seeded New Mexico State 1-0 in WAC tournament final to earn first NCAA berth.
- UCLA: 11-time national champion is seeded No. 12 in 64-team field as it makes its 32nd NCAA appearance.